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145 5 LIBYA, UKRAINE, AND THE RISE OF ISIS 2014 was a pivotal year for nato. In December, after more than a decade of arduous involvement, nato’s combat mission in Afghanistan ended. Under any normal circumstances this would have provoked a vigorous debate in the alliance over the future direction of transatlantic security. But, as on so many previous occasions in alliance history, events took over. The Russian government ’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014, and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, a nato partner and potential member, presented nato with a stark reminder that while their global role might have been the focus after 9/11 pressures on their eastern flank would always be on the alliance’s agenda. At the same time, the rise of the isis, and the ongoing deterioration of Libya’s security situation, presented nato with concentrated pressure on its southern flank, including massive refugee flows into nato’s southern Mediterranean members, Italy, Greece, and Turkey. These dual and connected threats from the east and south have refocused nato on its collective defense role and reinvigorated the alliance’s political machinery and military posture and partnerships. In this way they have made a clear contribution to nato’s durability. Just as critics were about to question the relevance of nato, and the many faults of the Afghan mission, the alliance took on a new lease of life. In responding to the Ukraine crisis and the “arc of instability” that now exists around nato’s eastern and southern neighborhoods, nato has been an important part of the transatlantic response and has reemerged as a central pillar of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture. Drawing on a series of interviews at nato Headquarters in June 2015,1 this chapter explores these dual threats from the east and the south and how they have once again galvanized the nato membership . The chapter begins by looking at the Arab Spring uprisings in Libya, and how nato became involved in a un-mandated civilian protection mission in 2011 that culminated in regime change 146 ◆ nato’s durability in a post–cold war world and the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. The Libya operation was initially touted as a model of humanitarian intervention,2 and nato acted with a wide degree of international support, including from the Arab League. However, as in Afghanistan, the security situation has markedly deteriorated in the wake of the military operation, and militias, warlords, and terrorist groups, including isis have begun to fill the vacuum left by Gaddafi’s displacement. Like Afghanistan before, the operations in Libya have revealed the limits of employing solely military hard power to solve the security challenges originating from weak or failing state structures on the southern flank of the Alliance. The chapter then examines the crisis in Ukraine. This section traces the history of nato-Ukraine relations, looks at the causes and consequences of the crisis for nato’s role in European security, and unpacks the dynamics behind nato’s response to the crisis. The chapter argues that in response to both these threats, nato has played a pivotal and consequential role. While nato expansion has contributed to the Russian approach to its near abroad, and while the Libya operation has thrown the limits of nato’s power into sharp relief, dealing with these crises has once again shown why nato is a pivotal actor in responding to security threats in Europe and beyond. The crises have also demonstrated that understanding nato’s durability is greatly enhanced by approaches which consider geopolitics (the realist narrative ), but also domestic, democratic, and identity-based politics (the liberal narrative). In this respect, the arguments put forward by realist scholars in explaining the crisis in Ukraine in particular have tended to simplify and reduce the analysis of nato-Ukraine-Russia relations in an unhelpful way. nato’s operation in libya nato’s role in the post–Cold War era has been focused largely on the challenges posed by failed and failing states, and when the Arab Spring uprisings came to Libya early in 2011, nato again took a role in responding to the growing violence and civilian casualties. Operation Unified Protector was a seven-month long mission, ending in October 2011, which was mandated by the United Nations with support from the Arab League. Just as in Bosnia sixteen years earlier, nato’s military assets were called on by the international community to enforce an arms embargo, maintain a no-fly zone over the...


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